Brow Beat

How Jackie Fuchs’ Jeopardy! Triumph Helped the Ex-Runaways Bassist Reclaim Her Identity

Jackie Fuchs stands in front of a blue and purple Jeopardy! backdrop, smiling in glasses and a black shirt.
Jackie Fuchs, four-game Jeopardy! winner.

Jackie Fuchs had won on Jeopardy! two days in a row before host Alex Trebek told the audience why they might have recognized her face. “Jackie Fuchs is our champion … and was also a performer in an all-girl rock band?” he asked in the middle of Tuesday’s show. “I was the bass player in the ‘70s all-female rock band the Runaways,” Fuchs confirmed.

Fuchs’ tenure in the Runaways was short—she joined the group that launched Joan Jett when she was 15 years old, under the name Jackie Fox, and left at 17. In 2015, the world found out why: According to Fuchs and several alleged witnesses, Runaways manager Kim Fowley raped her in front of a crowd, including her bandmates, while she was drugged and semiconscious at age 16. Fowley died before Fuchs made her allegations public; Jett denies having witnessed any assault.

Fuchs never joined another band, but she’s had a hell of a career. “So wait a minute,” Trebek said to her. “You were in a rock band playing bass. You were [a surfer nicknamed] Malibu Barbie. And now you’re an attorney and a writer. How did you make that switch at some point?” Fuchs smiled. “I just get bored easily, I guess,” she said.

Since her brief stint as a rock star, Fuchs has lived a life at once ordinary and extraordinary. She graduated from UCLA undergrad and Harvard Law, has a bunch of short stories she’s written but never published, and spent several years gunning for a spot on Jeopardy! before finally making it on as a contestant. In addition to practicing law, she likes playing pub trivia (a hobby that once helped her win $1,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and playing board games. “I’m just really curious about the world,” she told me on Friday. “I read a lot and there will be things that I want to learn more about, and I just sort of chase the knowledge down the rabbit hole.” Her winning streak ended this week after five episodes and $87,089 in prize money, which Fuchs told me she hopes to use to visit several national parks.

Fuchs’ curiosity served her well on the show, where she pulled out a few impressive factoids. “Getting ‘pediment’ in the architecture category was pretty exciting, because that was my fourth game, and I watched it at a pub where a lot of former Jeopardy! champions play trivia,” she said. “It was the one question that they weren’t all shouting out the answer to.”

Few survivors of sexual assault end up living what Fuchs has called her “third act” in the public eye. By the time she told her story to HuffPost in 2015, she’d built a stable, successful life outside the music industry. She didn’t have to thrust herself back under the unforgiving spotlight. But after watching women come forward with stories of alleged assaults at the hands of Bill Cosby, Dr. Luke, and rapists on college campuses, Fuchs explained at the time, she wanted to reclaim her story from the shame she’d felt in the past.

It’s heartening to see Fuchs talk now with such confidence and frankness about her alleged rape, especially as she achieves a personal goal that has nothing to do with the man who stunted what might have otherwise been a promising career in music. In the years since the HuffPost article, Fuchs has traveled the country educating others about why survivors often don’t report their rapes and why bystanders often fail to act when they witness abuse. In an interview with Pitchfork this week, she said the experience of coming forward about that alleged assault helped fuel her Jeopardy! winning streak. “I think the thing that prepared me to do well in front of an audience was talking about being raped a number of years ago,” she said. “Once you can talk about that on camera, an audience isn’t going to faze you. It’s kind of like that’s the worst thing that can happen to you, so you know, losing a game show is not fun, but it just pales in comparison.”

Over the past few days, Fuchs has reveled in her Jeopardy! celebrity. She’s exchanging board game recommendations with Jeopardy! viewers on Twitter. She’s joking about questions she flubbed: “Got grief for being a lawyer and missing ‘restitution’ but no one gave me grief for being a former surfer and missing Body Glove!” Her friend baked a cookie version of the Jeopardy! board to eat while they watched her episode together. She’s become social media buddies with Mary Ann Borer, who had a similar four-game winning streak in November. When fulfilled its raison d’être with a piece titled “Jackie Fuchs aka Jackie Fox: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” Fuchs quipped, “I wouldn’t say that you NEED to know this stuff, but in case you want to, here you go.”

The best part of Fuchs’ re-entry into the public eye this week was that it came on her own terms. She told Jeopardy! producers that she didn’t want to mention the Runaways unless she made it to a third episode. “I kind of wanted people to get to know me as Jackie Fuchs before they reverted to thinking of me as Jackie Fox,” she told me. “There is more to me than just having been in the Runaways. And even though I’m really, really proud of what the band accomplished, I just don’t want what I did when I was 17 to be the defining factor of my life.”

Fuchs has noted that she did well in some categories—art, fourth-century literature—that rewarded her for being older than her competitors. “I feel as if I have finally arrived. Apparently, I was this morning’s NPR trivia question,” she tweeted on Thursday. She listens to NPR every morning; she got a kick out of a post she saw on a Jeopardy! forum that said the radio broadcast had made her “old-people famous.”

It’s a sort of poetic justice that, once exploited for her youth and her body, Fuchs has earned a second wave of public recognition for her experience and her mind. “The thing that’s the best about it is that before I was on Jeopardy!, if you Googled me, what came up was my sexual assault,” she said. “And so now, hopefully, when somebody Googles my name, ‘Jeopardy! champion’ comes up. It’s just nice to be known for something that I feel like I did, as opposed to something that happened to me.”